Tracey Rowland: The Anglican Patrimony

18 06 2011

Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage & Family in Melbourne, Australia, and gave this address at a conference for those exploring joining a Personal Ordinariate in Australia. She is also the author of the popular and excellent Ratzinger’s Faith, published by Oxford University Press.

Pope Benedict XVI has consistently held that the ecumenical process is one of acquiring unity in diversity, not structural reintegration.  For example, in his Ecumenical Address in Cologne in 2005 he remarked that ‘Ecumenism does not mean what could be called an ecumenism of the return: that is, to deny and to reject one’s own faith history – it does not mean uniformity in all expressions of theology and spirituality, in liturgical forms and in discipline’.

In this address he also spoke of dialogue as an exchange of gifts in which the Churches and Ecclesial Communities can make available their own riches.  This theme was reiterated in a parallel address in the Crypt of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, at the second World Youth Day of his pontificate.  He noted that whereas an idea aims at truth, a gift expresses love.  Both, he concluded, were essential elements of dialogue.

The announcement of the establishment of a Personal Ordinariate for Anglicans has been the most dramatic example of Pope Benedict’s attempt to put these principles into operation.  According to Cardinal Levada:

It is the hope of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that the Anglican clergy and faithful who desire union with the Catholic Church will find in this ecumenical structure the opportunity to preserve those Anglican traditions precious to them and consistent with the Catholic faith.  Insofar as these traditions express in a distinctive way the faith that is held in common, they are a gift to be shared in the wider Church.  The unity of the Church does not require a uniformity that ignores cultural diversity, as the history of Christianity shows.

In his published commentary on Anglicanorum Coetibus Cardinal Levada noted that this proposal of a Personal Ordinariate was consistent with the earlier ecumenical efforts of Cardinal Mercier of Belgium who explored the possibility of an Anglican union with the Catholic Church under the principle of an Anglicanism ‘reunited but not absorbed’. Cardinal Levada also noted that paragraph 13 of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism recognised the special place of the Anglican Communion as a body in which Catholic traditions and institutions were to some degree retained after the Reformation.

From my personal experience I would say that for many Anglo-Catholics the barriers to full communion with the See of Peter have tended to be primarily cultural rather than doctrinal.  They have been reluctant to seek full membership of the Catholic Church because of a not unreasonable belief that they would have to abandon whole elements of their Anglican cultural heritage.  It is precisely this problem Pope Benedict hopes the creation of an Ordinariate will overcome.

Although the Pope has not made any public statements about what he thinks might be the ‘gifts’ Anglicans could bring to their full membership of the Catholic Church, many commentators have observed an affinity between the Anglo-Catholic approaches to liturgy and Pope Benedict’s own liturgical theology.  In particular he is very concerned about what he has variously described as ‘parish tea party’ liturgy, ‘pastoral pragmatism’, ‘emotional primitivism’ ‘Sacro-pop’ and ‘utility music’.

Many of my Anglican friends have long held that for them the major barrier to their return to full Communion with the Catholic Church is precisely the banality of post-Conciliar parish liturgies and what Digby Anderson has called the ‘oikish translation of the Mass’.  In response to the question, ‘what is it that Anglican Catholics could bring with them as a small gift on their trip to Rome?’ Anderson suggests better translations of the Mass and the moral sensibility associated with the idea of the gentleman, including the cult of understatement and self-deprecation and traditional manners.

When I read Anderson’s article, published in the magazine New Directions, I thought he has nailed it.

It is true that much contemporary Catholic liturgy is banal.  When he was a Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger compared it to the Hebrew’s worship of the Golden Calf and said that some contemporary liturgies could be described as acts of apostasy.  He suggested that there is a problem when liturgy becomes self-centric rather than theo-centric and he noted that this self-centric tendency is defended by exactly the same argument that the Hebrew’s used for bringing on the golden calf.  Ratzinger believed that the Hebrew leaders were not so stupid as to confuse the golden calf with God – they knew that the calf was not God – but they thought that they needed to bring God down to the level of the people and representing him as a calf was the way they went about this.

In his book The Feast of Faith, Ratzinger wrote:

The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level, she must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the Cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable and beloved.  Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real ‘apologia’ for her history…The Church is to transform, improve, ‘humanise’ the world – but how can she do that if at the same time she turns her back on beauty, which is so closely allied to love?  For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.  The Church must maintain high standards, she must be a place where beauty can be at home; she must lead the struggle for that ‘spiritualisation’ without which the world becomes ‘the first circle of hell’.

Given these attitudes,  I think it is fair to say that Cardinal Ratzinger would have been more at home in an Oxbridge college chapel at Evensong then in the average suburban parish with people singing songs written by Marty Haugen.  Being forced to listen to “Gather Us In” is my idea of landing in the first circle of hell.

A number of scholars have tried to come to grips with why it is that contemporary suburban parish culture is so philistine. There are books with names like Why Catholics Can’t Sing and As Ugly as Sin.   I would say that there are at least 4 reasons, perhaps many others:

First, there was the influence of Jansenism.  This was a heresy that began in what is now called Belgium in the 17th century, spread to France and then onto Ireland since Irish priests were trained on the continent to avoid persecution while later French priests escaped to Ireland to avoid persecution.  From Ireland strains of the virus spread to the New World, including Australia and New Zealand.  The Jansenists were opposed to sensuality in all of its manifestations and thus in favour of low liturgy.  What Anglicans have often regarded as some of the more peculiar Catholic attitudes to sex can also be found to have a Jansenist pedigree.

Second, the neo-scholasticism which was regnant in the Catholic academies between the late 19th century and the beginning of the Second Vatican Council was not especially interested in beauty.  The neo-scholastics cared a great deal about truth, and thus about getting the doctrine right, or using the right linguistic formulae, but the realm of beauty was hardly on their radar screen at all.  Scholars have argued that the scholasticism which developed in the post-Tridentine baroque era was characterised by a number of dualisms, and in particular a tendency to separate spirituality from dogmatic theology which had the effect of fostering a compartmentalisation of the intellectual and affective dimensions of the faith.  In its most extreme forms this gave birth to a dry theology dominated by doctrinal formulae (at one extreme) and saccharine devotions (at the other extreme).

Third, since the 1960s there has been the influence of liberation theology.  For those who have imbibed the liberation theology cocktail professional choirs and solemn music are associated with a high level of education and being highly educated is associated with wealth and wealth is associated with being part of an oppressive class, and thus, the argument goes, liturgy is a class issue and to be on the side of the poor is to eschew any interest in what might be called ‘high culture’ or ‘good music’.

Fourth, I think that in places like Australia for much of the twentieth century the Catholic Church was dominated by the Irish and the Irish saw gaining admission to the professions as their passport to upward mobility. This meant that the Catholic school curriculum was heavily weighted in favour of subjects like Maths and Science which were the gateways to medicine and engineering and could get a student into law as well.  The humanities subjects and extra curricula activities devoted to the development of cultural sensibilities were not given the same emphasis.  (This is of course a sociological generalisation for which one could find exceptions, especially in the elite Catholic schools run by the Jesuits and Loreto sisters, but these schools are small in number).

For whatever the sociological reasons I think that Anglicans do have an appreciation of the importance of beauty and an understanding of ritual and that those who join the Ordinariate can bring with them a great liturgical tradition which many Roman-Rite Catholics will find attractive.  Aidan Nichols OP calls this particular gift of the Anglican communion ‘a high sacral register of liturgical language’.  The Evensong liturgy is perhaps the best example of this particular gift, but there are many others.

Digby Anderson’s second treasure or gift was the ‘moral sensibility associated with a gentlemen’, including ‘the cult of understatement, self-deprecation and general good manners’.  By this I don’t think he meant that Anglicans tend to use butter knives even when dining alone.  I think he meant something closer to John Henry Newman’s idea of a gentleman.  Newman wrote:

He [the gentleman] makes light of favors while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort…From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend…If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blundering discourtesy of better, perhaps, but less educated minds; who, like blunt weapons, tear and hack instead of cutting clean, who mistake the point in argument, waste their strength on trifles, misconceive their adversary, and leave the question more involved than they find it.

While there are many Catholics who are real gentlemen by Newman’s definition, I think that Anglicans do tend to be renowned for their highly developed culture of polite disagreement.  Whatever the sociological explanations for this, it is a really desirable social trait.  Further, I clearly remember my Anglican grandmother telling me that ‘empty vessels make the most sound’ and that I should ‘never blow my own trumpet’.  I think this is what Anderson meant about the cult of understatement and self-deprecation and traditional manners.  Braggers are bores.

One gift that Digby Anderson did not mention was a Christian understanding of the importance of social hierarchies where social privileges are linked to social duties, and an understanding of the value of a Christian constitutional monarchy.  Although it is not an article of the Catholic faith that one must be a monarchist, I suspect that many of you are, and I would like to say that if you do decide to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church you will not be forced to support Collingwood or otherwise become a Fenian.[1]  There are plenty of Catholics about who are not Fenians.

The papacy is the oldest functional monarchy in the world and the College of Cardinals the most powerful network of princes.[2]  Catholics celebrate the Feast of Christ the King and they have a whole decade of the rosary dedicated to the Coronation of Our Lady as the Queen of Heaven.  We know that there is a celestial hierarchy and it is believed that the martyrs will occupy the highest positions after Our Lady because they have shed their blood for Christ.

It would seem that in heaven chivalry counts for something and I think that a high regard for the chivalrous disposition is another element of the Anglican patrimony, perhaps related to the idea of a gentleman.  The story of St. George is incomprehensible without chivalry.  Chivalry is the opposite of blowing one’s own trumpet.  It’s about using one’s social standing to defend the weak and going out on a limb for Christ.  The chivalrous disposition is well summarised in the prayer to St. George:

Heroic Catholic soldier and defender of your Faith, you dared to criticize a tyrannical Emperor and were subjected to horrible torture. You could have occupied a high military position but you preferred to die for your Lord. Obtain for us the great grace of heroic Christian courage that should be the mark of soldiers of Christ. Amen

Thus, so far in our inventory we have the high sacral register of liturgical language, the notion of a gentleman and an appreciation of the meaning of chivalry and an understanding of why there are social hierarchies and how they can be put to the service of God’s people, the members of the royal priesthood.  The question now arises however of whether there are specific theological gifts to be brought across from the treasury of the Anglican communion, broadly construed?

Here I would suggest that there is much treasure to be retrieved from the works of the Caroline Divines, the Cambridge Platonists and the metaphysical poets (without of course taking on board every idea to be found among these sources).  While the baroque hedgehog was burrowing his way through a thick undergrowth of scholastic maxims the gothic fox was sunning himself in the meadows and musing over whether the countenance divine ever shined forth upon the clouded hills of England.  The Anglo-Catholic theologians retained a strong interest in Patristic theology and thus avoided the extremes of baroque-era scholasticism, while their aversion to Calvinism inoculated them against anything like Jansenism.  Blessed John Henry Newman was the heir to this heritage and is perhaps the paradigm example of someone who has appropriated its better elements.

Marianne Dorman quotes Dean Church’s statement that the doctrine of the Incarnation meant for the Caroline Divines living in “adoration, self-surrender and blessing, and in awe and joy of welcoming the Presence of the Eternal Beauty, the Eternal Sanctity and the Eternal Love, the Sacrifice and Reconciliation of the world”. Dorman concludes: ‘It was therefore as much a sensuous experience as spiritual, which further separated them [The Caroline Divines] from the Puritans who focused more on Christ as their “Captain”, leading them in the battle against sin and all evil in this world’.

Dorman also observes that the Caroline Divines were interested in the idea of kenosis.  This is a theological topic which has featured prominently in recent Catholic theology, especially in the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar.  In this context, Dorman quotes the following passage from Mark Frank where he noted that the Logos was:

poorly born; in a stable amongst beasts; poorly wrapped in rags, poorly cradled in a manger, poorly bedded upon a lock of hay, poorly attended by the ox and ass, poorly every way provided for; not a fire to dress him in the depth of winter, only the stream and breath of the beasts to keep him warm; cobwebs for his hangings, the  dung of the beasts for his perfumes, noise and lowings, neighing and brayings, for his music; everything as poor about him as want and necessity could make it.

Many other examples could be provided but suffice to say that in the works of the Caroline Divines one finds some of the most beautiful reflections upon Patristic thought to be found in the English language.

Similarly there is much in the verses of the metaphysical poets which could enrich the average religious education lesson, and indeed, to some extent this has already been recognised in the English language office books where poetry from John Donne and George Herbert has been included.

When it comes to the Cambridge Platonists we know that they were fighting materialism and rationalism – two intellectual disorders which continue to be influential today.  They were especially opposed to Thomas Hobbes – the chap who said that life is nasty, brutish and short and characterised as a war of all against all.  Hobbes also said that reason is to desire, as scouts and spies, to range abroad to find the way to the things desired.  In other words, our intellects are not capable of discerning good from evil, all they can do is to make judgments about the most efficient means of satisfying our desires.  It is as if human beings are like rats with an intellect sharp enough to work out how to get to the cheese, but not quite up to telling a cheese board from a rat-trap.  Anyone with any ammunition to fire against this kind of world-view is worth a hearing.  (Again this is not to suggest that one would want to bring everything from this movement, to appropriate every idea or element).

I think it is significant that we currently have a pontiff who has described himself as a ‘decided Augustinian’ and ‘to a certain extent a Platonist’.  As everyone knows, beauty was an important concept for both Plato and Augustine.  In philosophical parlance beauty is described as a ‘transcendental’, along with goodness, truth and sometimes unity.  The Franciscan scholar Benedict Groeschel has argued that human beings tend to have a ‘primary transcendental’.  By this he means that some people have a primary attraction to truth and he lists St. Thomas Aquinas as the prime example here; some people have a primary attraction for goodness and here he gives St. Francis of Assisi as his exemplar; and then there are those types who have a primary attraction to beauty, and here St. Augustine is his best candidate.  In order to be holy one should have a deep attraction for all three transcendentals: for truth, beauty and goodness.

Leaving aside those in the league of Augustine, Aquinas and St. Francis, among ordinary mortals there are those who have buckets of natural goodness and find the virtues relatively easy, but they can be a bit mentally challenged and don’t often get the importance of doctrines.  Conversely, there are those who are into doctrine but find charity a bit of a challenge, and those like the poet Paul Claudel who had a conversion experience simply by hearing the ton Royale chant in Notre Dame Cathedral.  Some can go to banal liturgy week after week without despairing while the Claudel types can literally lose their faith if they hear enough of it.

What is the relevance of this excursion for the Anglican patrimony?  I think it is to say that at the moment I suspect we have a pontiff whose primary transcendental is beauty.  This is not to say that he doesn’t care about truth and goodness.  Indeed, one of his frequent theological messages is that ‘the twin pillars of all realty are love and reason’ and he often cites St. Thomas Aquinas as the great defender of truth and St. Bonaventure as the great theologian of love.  Nonetheless his earliest and arguably deepest love was for St. Augustine.  The line ‘Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real apologia for her history’ sounds as though it could have been penned by Augustine.

I therefore believe that now is a time in the life of the Church when we have a pope who is temperamentally suited to appropriating the Anglican patrimony which in so many ways is strongest on the transcendental of beauty.

It has been observed in numerous blogs and even a few academic journals that both Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury are world-class Augustinian scholars, and on many fronts there are points of convergence and unity between them.  The young Joseph Ratzinger almost failed his habilitationsschrift because he refused to bow in the direction of Francisco Suárez – the doyen of baroque scholasticism.  I think he would have felt more at home with Lancelot Andrewes.  However when it comes to matters like the meaning and purpose of human sexuality and the theological significance of gender differences, Rowan Williams and Benedict XVI are on different planets. Being C of E or just plain C is now something more significant than a juridical difference over the appointment of bishops.  There are now differences affecting the very foundations of sacramental theology.

Robert Moynihan, in an editorial for Inside the Vatican had this to say about Benedict XVI:

Benedict is rallying his troops.  He is trying to reunite all those factions and denominations and groups in the West that share common beliefs in the eternal destiny of human beings in the sacredness of human life (since human beings are ‘in the image and likeness of God’), in the existence of a moral standard which is true for all times and in all places (against the relativism of modern secular culture), in the need for justice in human affairs, for the rule of right not might.  And so he is doing his best, in what seems perhaps to be the ‘twilight of the west’, to build an ark, centred in Rome, to which all those who share those beliefs about human dignity may repair.

For those of you who are tempted to come on board the ark, I hope that you will receive a warm welcome and that you will bring with you a number of intellectual and liturgical gifts and a number of social sensibilities that will make life on the ark a more beautiful and urbane place for all of us.


[1] Collingwood is a reference to a football club.

[2] Note that Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was, emphasized that the papacy is not an absolute monarchy because the decisions of every pope are circumscribed by the Tradition as handed down from the Apostles.  Even in a liturgical context Ratzinger argued that a pope cannot do whatever he likes.


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